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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Don't Give a Hoot About What You Think
Of all the musicians that I've fallen in love with over the last 25 years (and believe me - there have been quite a few.  My musical attention span, most of the time, is roughly like that of a four year old), without a doubt, my favorite band has been, and will always be Weezer.  I'm not entirely sure why, since they haven't released a truly great album since at least 2001 (and I'm in the minority here; most people would say 1996), but for some reason, no matter what the Weeze puts out, I feel compelled to give a chance.

Perhaps much of the reason for my devotion can be attributed to the enigmatic and flat out weird frontman, Rivers Cuomo.  He's the kind of guy who acts in such an odd manner that half the time, you can't decide whether he's joking or not.  And yet, that may be the most endearing part of who he is.  In a music world of splintered genres where everyone wants to be known for something (or not known for something) it's fairly refreshing to encounter a musician who legitimately doesn't care what anyone thinks about him.  Sure, he's lame and cheesy most of the time, and sure, there are songs he's written that I can't imagine anyone liking, but you know what?  He is who he is, and that's just how it is.

As we close the book (for now) on our discussions about the Sermon on the Mount, I think Rivers' attitude is one that you and I need to emulate if we're going to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.  We live in a world where there's so much pressure for people to please everyone around them, and the church is no different.  To truly live out the principles Jesus describes will take a conscious decision that being different is not only acceptable, but it's a goal to be achieved.  Of course, we're not called to be weird just for weird's sake - we're call to be different, because the Kingdom of Heaven is so much different than the Kingdom of Earth.

It's ok if you don't like Weezer - they're my favorite band, and I'm not always sure I can explain why I like them.  But if you're not willing to be unique, to be who God wants you to be regardless of what anyone else thinks, able to trust Jesus and Jesus alone, then there's something you'll definitely never be a part of:

The Kingdom of Heaven.
1:43 pm 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Movie That Should Never Have Been Born...

I've sat through some awful movies in my day, but this week, perhaps, I discovered the absolute worst.  Its name?

The Unborn

The 'plot' to the movie is simple - a teenagish girl (we're never quite sure how old.  There are times when she seems to be in high school, and times when she seems to be in college.  They never address it, and so we're just left to wonder) discovers that she's being haunted by her twin who died in utero.  This fact leads her to find her biological grandmother, a holocaust survivor who murdered her possessed twin while they were Auschwitz.  Her twin brother is actually a Jewish mystical demon, or something like that, and so there has to be an exorcism, performed of course by a skeptical Jewish Rabbi and an Episcopal priest who doubles as a basketball coach on the side.  Sound interesting?  Well, it's not - I promise you, reading this paragraph is much more satisfying than wasting the 88 minutes of your life you'll never get back to watch the movie itself.

Typically movies like this are a sure thing for a guy like me - I love scary movies, I'm fascinated by things like exorcisms and demons and whatnot, and Priests who coach basketball seem like characters who need more attention.  But the thing about this film is not just that it's dull or boring or nonsensical - there are plenty of movies that fit that bill.  The thing about this particular mess of movie history is that not only is all of those things, but it fails in every sense it can.  It's a horror movie whose scares are not scary; the special effects aren't that special; the dialogue is neither compelling nor dramatic.  The saddest thing?  It really appears that the filmmakers tried to make a work of art, and they do such a horrible job, you almost want to give the writer and director a hug out of sympathy.

However, despite all that it had going against it, during one scene in the movie, the main character made a comment that got me thinking.  She was talking to her boyfriend about the demon, and she said,

"Maybe we've never been safe at all.  Maybe we've all just been pretending that the world around us is safe."

Even though this line really did nothing to explain what was going on in the movie, it got me thinking about the world around us.  Over the last couple months, we've been diving into the Sermon on the Mount, the very heart and soul of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  And if we broke down the message of the sermon in one sentence, it'd be this: God wants you and I to live for a Kingdom of Heaven that is unlike any kingdom we know on earth.

Now, for that to be true (there being a Kingdom of Heaven to live for unlike any earthly kingdom), then that must naturally mean something about the world we live in - it's not at all what God ever intended us to live for.  If the kingdoms and systems of the earth were able to spiritually and eternally satisfy us, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to introduce us to an alternate, radically different way of life.

The fact is, for thousands of years people have been lying to themselves.  They've believed that the world around them is what they should live for, and the earth's rewards are what they need.  They've believed that this is where they belong, and affluence in the here and now is all there is to work towards.  And all along, with these lies they've believed, they've assumed the world is safe, and that by living for it, they'll be safe.

The truth is that while living for the Kingdom of Heaven will most certainly not gain you worldly satisfaction, it is the safest lifestyle you can live.  But when we for what God wants instead of people or the world around us, we place ourselves in the hands of the Creator of the universe who loves and wants to save us from all the evils that we cause in our lives.  That's where we need to be, and it's that kingdom we need to live for eternally.

Of course, while all this is certainly what Jesus taught, the very notion that I would be thinking about this instead of paying attention to the movie leaves us with one more undisputable fact:

The Unborn was really, really bad! 

10:26 am 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gramma Nutt, Mr. Mint and Our Heavenly Father
I had an epiphany this week: playing Candyland with a five year old girl is truly an emotional roller coaster!

As a child, Candyland was always one of my favorite board games; I'm fairly sure this has everything to do with the stimulating colors and little to nothing to do with the gameplay.  But despite my childhood affections, I hadn't played the game in years.  But all of that changed this week when I had the opportunity to dive headfirst into the fantastic land of Mr. Mint and Gramma Nutt once again!

If you've forgotten how the game is played, it couldn't be simpler - you travel along a multi-colored road, your steps determined by random chance as you draw cards with colored squares.  You simply go to the next square with the color you drew.  It's that easy!  Yet despite its simplicity, it is also maddening; in addition to the colored squares, there are several Candyland characters you can visit as well.  Of course, you have no control over what you draw or when you draw it, which means you can be this close to winning, when suddenly you have to visit the Ginger Bread People, who just happen to be right at the start of the board.

It dawned on me, as the three of us who were playing alternated shouts of joy and groans of aggravation, that Candyland is a whole lot like life.  You never know how you're going to wake up each day.  You may feel miserable, or you may feel great; you may be patient, or you may want to forcibly separate all anoyances from your presence; you may think all of life's little foibles are humorous, and you may want to throw your cell phone into a lake and hide from everyone indefinitely.  And the thing of it is, you and I have little to no control over our emotions 99% of the time.  Life just happens, and we're affected by it one way or the other.

The good news is that while we may live a roller-coaster, Candyland existence, the God that we serve is nothing like our emotions.  He is constant and He is unwavering; He is always loving, and He is always faithful; He always wants what's best, and He always wants us to turn to Him.  As the Psalm writer put it, every day God carries us in His arms, and that's why we should praise Him.

It can be really hard to thank God when things aren't going so well, but the fact is when you and I experience hardships in our lives, it isn't His fault.  It may be our fault, it may be someone else's fault, and it may be nobody's fault - but it's never God's.  That's why we can count on our faith even if everything else in our life fails - God is the only one who remains unaffected by the world's inconsistencies.

So remember - every day, no matter how you feel, you have a Father in Heaven who has your back... even if it's not always a good idea to play Candyland when you're 25!
3:42 pm 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Blog Week: Of Dogs, Birds and Grace
Having been a 'dog person' my whole life, once I was sure that I had a job and a place to live when I was finished with college, I had one absolutely essential task before I could truly be settled in Ashland: get a dog.   Luckily for me, thanks to the unexpected pregnancy of one Dixie Goudschaal in the Winter of 2006, I was able to meet my new best friend and companion.

I named him Griffey.

For the past three years, Griffey has been as much a member of the Snyder family and Stephanie or I, and I've gotten to know him well.  As it turns out, he's a unique fellow, somewhat of an oddity among dogs.  He's timid and gentle, seemingly afraid of everything, ranging from the surprising (balls) to the absurdly irritating (the wind).  And yet, Griffey is wonderful in so many ways, even if he is his own dog.

All of my fond feelings, however, were put to the test recently.  Stephanie and I were hanging out with another family from church when we arrived home fairly late.  Much to our shock, horror and pure disgust, when we returned to our house, we had a new addition to the decor in the living room: a dead, half-skeletonized baby bird (I'll let your imagination guess as to which half still had feathers!).  Needless to say, we were less than amused.

Once we figured out the best way of handling the situation (Stephanie cleaned it up while I pretended it didn't exist), we were confronted with a question: how in the world did Tweetie end up on our couch in the first place.  There was only one possible culprit (whose 'business' confirmed what we suspected later on): our sweet, gentle, well mannered Griffey had savagely murdered and halfway consumed poor, innocent Woodstock.  It was, truly, a tragedy.

This whole situation has caused me to look at Griffey in a new light, I'm afraid.  I mean honestly, who expects their best friend to be capable of such brutality?  I had never thought of my dog as a cold blooded killer before, since something like this is just so out of character for him.  But I'm simply going to have to come to grips with the fact that maybe my dog isn't so unique after all.

Regardless of how I feel about the whole 'dead bird on the couch' conundrum, I am thankful for one thing: I serve a God who loves me despite the times I've left a half eaten bird on the couch (figuratively speaking, of course).  There have been times in my life where I've done heinous things, sinning against God and other people in ways I don't even want to talk about.  And yet, even though I'm a fairly terrible person capable of fairly terrible things, God doesn't look at me any differently than He did when I was born.  Through my faith in Jesus Christ, I've been clothed with Him, and God only sees His Son.

This fact should serve as a motivation for you and me, not only to worship God, but to extend grace and compassion to people who are just like us: flawed, sinful and possessing closets full of skeletons.  After all, as Jesus said, when you've experienced forgiveness in a powerful way, it makes it possible to love others in a powerful way.

I have to admit that as I sit here looking at Griffey grinning like an idiot at me, I can't help but forgive him of the unfortunate bird incident.  He's still my best friend, and that's not going to change.  

And you know what?  You and I are God's kids, and that ain't changing either. 
2:19 pm 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Blog Week: Day Four - Peter Griffin and the Son of God

It may just be a cartoon, but allow me to present, for your consideration, the greatest television show of the 21st Century:

Family Guy.

I feel in love with Seth McFarlane's creation when I was in high school - there was just something about a family with a talking (and drinking) dog, a baby evil genius, a criminally unpopular sister and the stupidest father in the history of the world that captured my imagination.  Plus, it was a cartoon intended for adults, which made my teenage head swarm. 

As a longtime fan of the show (notice I said 'the show,' and NOT 'the morals and ethics which are often portrayed in the show'), I have faithfully owned each of their volumes on DVD, and when Volume 7 was released this summer, Stephanie and I dutifully purchased and plowed through the latest installment of the family (we haven't actually watched on TV in years, instead choosing to watch commercial free on DVD.  We suggest this strategy highly for anyone who doesn't want to pay for sattelite or cable TV), when we discovered a startling episode title:

I Dream of Jesus.

Now, let it be known that the value system and worldview to which Seth McFarlane ascribes is diametrically opposed to my own.  The man simply is no fan of religion, God, Jesus, or conservative middle-America in the least.  Plus, the purpose of Family Guy is seemingly to make fun of basically everything in the world.  So, it should have come as no surprise that eventually he would devote an entire episode to mocking Jesus, though I have to admit, it was stunning how far he went.

At moments like these, the general reaction from the Christian community is predictable: outraged, many believers and churches speak out against the evils of a cartoon which teaches that Jesus is a fallible human who doesn't get along with his dad and works at a used record store.  And, admittedly, there's a part of me that wants to take offense, throw away my DVDs and write Rupert Murdoch a mean-spirited e-mail.  After all, it's awful to see a friend or family member made fun of and ridiculed, let alone our Lord and Savior.  The thing is, though, this is exactly the opposite of what we're taught that we should do by the very person whose reputation we would seek to protect.

Jesus taught that we can live our faith at its finest when we're offended, that we can truly set ourselves apart as people living for a Kingdom of Heaven when we respond to attacks.  He taught that instead of seeking revenge or feeling angry or bitter, we should should, instead, extend love, compassion and grace to the very people who hurt us.  In this way, we can show that we truly understand how God loves His creation, even as most of mankind refuses to love Him in return.

Truthfully, I feel sorry for Seth McFarlane.  I really do - in Jesus of Nazareth, I have found the ultimate peace, the truth of reality and the world around me, a best friend, King and redeemer, and most of all, salvation.  There is nothing in this world I would trade that for, and yet, for Seth McFarlane, all he has found is a character to be mocked in a stupid TV show.  If there's anything sadder or anyone who needs to be loved more than that, I simply can't think of who it would be.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't blame you if you decided to never watch Family Guy again (if you ever did to start with), and I would certainly understand if you harbored ill feelings for Seth McFarlane or the people at FOX who put this garbage on national TV.  But let's remember that not only does God truly love these people, but He's called to do the same.

And after all - it's just a cartoon!

4:09 pm 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Blog Week, Day Three - Just Adding On...

I can't believe no one thought of this sooner.

As a fan of horror movies, I'm not sure that I've ever watched a movie where zombies are prominently involved that I didn't enjoy.  Call me juvenile, call me morbid, or call me crazy - the truth's the truth.  And sure, some are better than others (it's tough to beat 28 Days Later), but basically, if there's a horde of undead creatures attempting to eat other people, I'm in.

And that's why this is such a fantastic idea: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Basically, one day, someone decided, 'hey - what if Pride and Prejudice had zombies in it?'  Then, they decided to add zombies to the classic Jane Austen novel, all while keeping the spirit and plot development of the original.  It's really quite ingenious.  As the co-author (along with Austen), Seth Graham-Smith put it,

"You have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there.  It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence!"

Now, you may think this is the dumbest idea ever, but that's not the point.  The point is that in much of life, you can simply add on whatever you want, whether it's zombies, a love story, a cooky new character, or even a religion.

That was exactly the problem that we've been discussing in our adult Cultivation Class on Sunday mornings.  At the ancient church in the city of Galatia, there was a large group of people who had taken their newfound faith in Jesus of Nazareth and simply added it to what they already knew.  Because of this, they trusted not only in Jesus for their salvation and spiritual well-being, but Jesus and Moses; Jesus and Circumcision; Jesus and the Law.

Unfortunately, as the Apostle Paul said, Jesus and anything is not really the gospel (the way God has chosen to save people).  The gospel is simple: Jesus.  You and I have one way we can not only be saved, but also have a personal relationship with God, and that's through trusting in the person and work of Jesus.  We don't trust in Jesus and our repentance, or baptism, or church, or our preacher, or our upbringing, or our faithfulness, or our good lives.  We trust in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.

That's not to say those other things aren't good or even necessary parts of trusting in Jesus; after all, Pride and Prejudice is infinitely more entertaining when you add zombies into the equation.  But at the end of the day, if we are trying to earn God's favor by following Jesus instead of trusting that Jesus is enough outside of our efforts, then we're guilty of the same thing the Galatians were: adding on needlessly to what God has planned.

The bottom line is simple: the only one we can have hope and trust in is Jesus - even if zombies are really, really cool!

2:18 pm 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Blog Week Day Two: Bouncing Back.
It's normally good news when your favorite sports team makes ESPN Sportscenter's 'Highlight of the Night.'  Of course, normally, your favorite sports team is not the Cincinnati Reds.

Case in point: last night, the Cincinnati Reds played the defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies.  And they lost 22-1.  To put that in perspective, the Cincinnati Reds have existed since 1869.  In their 140 year existence, they have never lost by that many runs in a single game.  In other words, last night was, without any exaggeration, the single worst game for the Cincinnati Reds in a century and a half.

The question was asked on a Reds blog I regularly contribute to, 'how do you bounce back from THAT?'  Good question!  A better question, though, is this: how do YOU bounce back when life beats you 22-1!?

We've all had days and weeks and months and years where we feel like life can't get any worse.  We feel like we've hit rock bottom, and we can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.  We look at our lives objectively, and all we see is bad.  We've all been there, and unfortunately, some of us are there right now.  So the question remains: how do you bounce back?

I wish I had all the answers, for both my beloved Reds and the glass case of emotions that is my life.  But I don't.  At the end of the day, I'm left with one answer, one hope, and one truth.  And while it may sound cliche or trite or cheesy or whatever else you want to call it, the only way I know to even begin to bounce back can be said in one word: Jesus. 

The Reds play another game today, and chances are good, they'll lose again.  You and I will (in all likelihood) wake up tomorrow, and chances are good, it's not going to be perfect.  But we'll still have Jesus, and when we trust in Him, there's always hope.

And when we have hope, we can always bounce back.
2:27 pm 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blog Week! Day One - Sign Insanity...

(Disclaimer: Under normal circumstances, I would never write a blog like the following, for fear of the perception that I am attacking another church.  However, I don't feel that these are normal circumstances.  Furthermore, I have the utmost respect for the congregation whose sign bears the brunt of the following criticism.  Really.)

The sign, like many church signs, caught my attention:

"A Christian is Too Blessed To Be Depressed."

Ordinarily, I avoid making comments about church signs, because, well, they're typically awful.  The vast majority of church signs have 'clever' and 'witty' sayings which are supposed to illicit a laugh or interest in the church or something else.  And normally, these signs are as harmless as they are cheesy - sure, they're irritating to a person who fights to have Christianity taken seriously by non-believers, but they're not offensive.

This sign,  however, is different.

I suppose that there are a couple of ways you could interpret the sign's message.  I guess that the word 'depressed,' could actually refer to the disease of depression, though that would be as nonsensical as a sign that said, 'A Christian is the Answer to Getting Cancer" or "A Christian Is Through Getting the Flu," and so I'm going to go ahead and give the signs originators the benefit of the doubt and assume they're not using the word 'depressed' in this context.  Because that wouldn't just be wrong -  it would be stupid, ignorant and irresponsible.

No, that can't be it, so, the sign MUST be using the word 'depressed' as a vague, catch-all term for 'unhappy,' or 'discontented' or perhaps 'frustrated' or 'angry' or even 'dissatisfied with life,' or 'sad.'  So, the sign's message is simple: as Christians, God has blessed us so abundantly that we shouldn't be unhappy - we should smile all the time!  Unfortunately, this message, while a bit less offensive than the other option, is still stupid, ignorant and irresponsible.

For starters, it appears from reading the New Testament that there were times when the Apostle Paul showed signs of depression.  And Peter and John didn't seem all that happy-go-lucky all the time either.  But they're just people, and people can make mistakes, right?  Well sure - except Jesus seems pretty down from time to time as well.

But there's more to the sign's idiocy than simply contradicting common Biblical sense; instead, its message puts undue pressure and expectations on people who are having a hard enough time following Jesus as it is.  As we talked about this past Sunday, hypocrisy, more often than not, comes when people feel pressured to fit into some type of cookie-cutter Christian mentality.  For many young Christians, the pressure gets to be too much, and they quit trying altogether.

The truth is that even Christians suffer from depression, and even the most faithful among us get upset, angry, sad and down.  That's life.  The good news that what Jesus offers is NOT immediate and constant worldly happiness; instead the message and hope of the cross brings us eternal, spiritual peace and life-long contentment in spite of the world.

Or, I suppose the Kingdom of Heaven exludes the likes of Peter, John and Paul, not to mention anyone who suffers from a chemical imbalance...

... though it would be stupid, ignorant and irresponsible to think so!   

4:14 pm 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Having a Six Flags Day...
As we left the park Monday night, I couldn't help but laugh at the sign posted:

'We Enjoyed Having You As Our Guest Today.'

Allow me to explain.  This past Monday, the wife and I packed up with Jonathan Herd and Jessica Bennett and we headed to Six Flags in St. Louis.  We hadn't been in several years, and considering it's just a two hour drive, that seems absurd.  Plus, Jonathan has a coupon book with all sorts of savings that you should theoretically be able to use, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

Now, I don't know how long it's been since you've spent a day at Six Flags or a similar amusement park, but there are several reasons you should not go.  Included in these are,

- Outlandish charges for stupid things.  $15 to park?  $14 to rent a locker? $12 for a 'souvenir cup'?  Really?
- The oppressive Missouri heat you try to avoid by staying inside?  Yeah, it's pretty bad walking around all day too.
- Underdressed and/or over-affectionate teenage couples.  If they weren't 13, I'd tell them to get a room.  Since they can't drive yet, though, I have no idea what to do.
- That horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach after consuming a $6 milkshake and then immediately get on
- Irritating videos which are drowned out by not one, but three different irritating songs playing all around you as you stand in line.
- The awful phrase 'Have a Six Flags Day!' you hear roughly every 120 seconds.
- Groups of pre-teens running amok (note to parents: if you wouldn't trust your 11 year old son by himself, he's probably not going to gain trustworthiness with three of his friends.  Just a tip.)

And so on.  (At this point, you're probably wondering, 'Drew, why would you go to such a place?'  Good question.  And to answer, I ask you one of my own: 'you've never been at the front of the Batman roller coaster, have you?')

Far and away, however, the worst thing about the park was the service.  Seriously - it was as if we were intruders in someone's home the way we were treated.  It wasn't just a few people, either; honestly, it seemed like everywhere we went, we were bothering the employees of Six Flags, and they took out their anger on us.  Maybe I'm getting old, and maybe I'm just petty, but when someone treats me like garbage when I'm dropping the equivalent of next month's electric bill, I'm not a happy camper.

All of this had me thinking about how we treat people at church.  I know that ours is a generally friendly congregation, but just to be transparent, there's been a day or three recently when I've been in no mood to pay attention to anyone other than myself, and I sincerely hope that no visitors have caught me at those times. 

Over the past three weeks, by my unofficial count, we have had 18 different visitors visit Ashland Christian Church.  Obviously, a large chunk of that is family or friends who are in town, but the point remains: a congregation like ours cannot afford to let any seekers leave our church feeling like I did leaving Six Flags Monday.  Especially at this time of year when half of our congregation is gone on any given Sunday, we have to be sure that when people visit us, they see that we want to be known for our love, just as Christ said we should be.

Our goal is so much greater than that of Six Flags or any other company.  We're not here for just fun, and we're definitely not here to make money; we exist to Connect, Call and Cultivate, and in doing so, we are changing the eternities of each person who makes a decision here. 

So let's not make Sunday a Six Flags day, and let's not have empty words thanking people for being here.  Instead, let's show people the love that they deserve, since God has loved us!
3:19 pm 

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